18 songs, 1 hr 8 min, 23 min reading time.

Black Lives Matter.

To educate yourself, find out where to donate, attend or organise protests, sign petitions and contact officials use this wiki: www.ally.wiki

Cherie Hu, a leading music journalist, published an eye-opening piece on how the music industry behind the scenes in board rooms and positions of power is not diverse despite the fact we consume music that is diverse. This is wrong. You can read more on this here through Cherie’s Patreon page.

Check out Duncan’s recent mix that was crowd-sourced for suggestions and gives pointers on where to donate.

As with all my playlists this is not an extensive list. Instead it is one based on research I have done while also being music that I like. This playlist is in no way meant to imply that the whole of the Black Lives Matter movement or black history can be captured in eighteen songs with accompanying notes on the choices. Instead it is an appreciation for the chosen songs and what I learnt from researching them.

At the end of this post there are resources that you can read and watch to learn more.

Author: Jake

Photo: Mike Von

Spotify playlist

Deezer playlist

1) “Rapper’s Delight – Single Version” – The Sugarhill Gang

A classic. Perhaps one of the greatest intros of all time. The video referenced at the bottom of this post actually reminded me of it as a panelist discussed it being one of the first songs he tried to memorise and learn as a kid. While it was not the first single to include rapping, “Rapper’s Delight” is credited for introducing hip hop music to a wide audience.

Album: “The Sugarhill Gang – 30th Anniversary Edition (Expanded Edition)” (2010)
Label: Sanctuary Records Group

2) “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution” – Tracy Chapman

For me, I believe Tracy Chapman is often forgotten or only remembered for “Fast Car”. This is unfortunate as she is a terrific artist with many great tracks, this one being relevant to the times today. Chapman finishes with the line: “Finally the tables are starting to turn, talking ‘bout a revolution going on.”

Album: “Tracy Chapman” (1988)
Label: Elektra/Asylum Records

3) “Salt Peanuts” – Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charles Mingus

Black artists have had a huge influence on music over time spanning multiple genres. This song is a great example where all the artists featured had a profound effect on the music at the time and pushed each other to dizzying heights. A stellar group of musicians just having fun. The below information found on Wikipedia should be read:

“During the 1964 United States presidential campaign, Gillespie put himself forward as an independent write-in candidate. He promised that if he were elected, the White House would be renamed the Blues House, and he would have a cabinet composed of Duke Ellington (Secretary of State), Miles Davis (Director of the CIA), Max Roach (Secretary of Defense), Charles Mingus (Secretary of Peace), Ray Charles (Librarian of Congress), Louis Armstrong (Secretary of Agriculture), Mary Lou Williams (Ambassador to the Vatican), Thelonious Monk (Travelling Ambassador) and Malcolm X (Attorney General). He said his running mate would be Phyllis Diller. Campaign buttons had been manufactured years before by Gillespie’s booking agency as a joke but proceeds went to Congress of Racial Equality, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr.; in later years they became a collector’s item.”

Album: “The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall [Original Jazz Classics Remasters]” (2012)
Label: Concord Music Group

4) “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” – Run The Jewels, Zack De La Rocha

The video says it all.

Album: “Run The Jewels 2” (2014)
Label: Run the Jewels, Inc under exclusive license to Mass Appeal

5) “Tightrope – The Solo Version” – Janelle Monáe

Black people have to walk on a tightrope everyday. They have to conform to white expectations, do things in a certain way, put up with oppression from the police and the wider population through racism and micro-aggressions. We must all work hard to ensure it is not this way going forward. Janelle Monáe said of the song: “”Tightrope” is basically dealing with how in life it’s important to keep your balance and not get too high or low about things during the time when you’re either being praised or being criticised. Which is something that, as artists, Big Boi and I could both relate to, because there are so many peaks and dips along the journey of just being an artist on the road to success. So we both felt it was important to kinda help those everyday working people who are constantly dealing with life’s obstacles, by giving them like a tutorial on how to deal with issues face-on.”

Single: “Tightrope – The Solo Version” (2010)
Label: Bad Boy Records

6) “Strange Fruit” – Billie Holiday

This song protests the lynching of Black Americans, with lyrics that compare the victims to fruit on trees. A shocking, powerful metaphor. Outrageously, lynching still happens today.

Album: “Billie Holiday” (1957)
Label: UMG Recordings

7) “Blaxploitation” – Noname

Definition of blaxploitation: “The exploitation of black people, especially with regards to stereotyped roles in films.”

Noname runs a book club if you want some inspiration on what to read.

Album: “Room 25” (2018)
Label: Noname

8) “People Get Ready” – The Temptations

“People Get Ready” is in a long tradition of Black American freedom songs that use train imagery. The imagery comes from the Underground Railroad, not a real train but an escape route North to freedom for fugitives from the American slavery system, with conductors such as Harriet Tubman going back time and again to the South to show people the route of the “railroad”. The gospel-influenced track was a Curtis Mayfield composition that displayed the growing sense of social and political awareness in his writing.

Album: “People Get Ready” (1965)
Label: Geffen Records

9) “Blue Lights” – Jorja Smith

Racism is everywhere, not just in the US. The UK arguably started racism through its colonialist past where invading other countries with no regards to indigenous people was thought of as exploration. They were different times, but perhaps that is where the superiority complex comes from that we have not been able to let go of and instead allowed it to permeate the globe.

Let the lyrics sink in:

I wanna turn those blue lights
What have you done
Into strobe lights
There’s no need to run
Not blue flashing lights
If you’ve done nothing wrong
Maybe fairy lights
Blue lights should just pass you by

Album: “Lost & Found” (2018)
Label: FAMM

10) “Mississippi Goddam” – Nina Simone

The song captures Simone’s response to the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi; and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four black children. Nina Simone was a legend with a huge selection of hits to choose from. Instantly recognisable, she can floor you with her songs proving how powerful she was.

Album: The Very Best Of Nina Simone 1967-1972 – Sugar In My Bowl (1998)
Label: BMG Entertainment International

11) “Excuse Me Please” – Dizzee Rascal

Dizzee Rascal provided the sample for the Jorja Smith track above with “Sirens”. Both “Sirens” and this one are from Dizzee Rascal’s third album “Math + English”. I stumbled across this article making the case that Dizzee Rascal was Britain’s first black male superstar.

If a policeman kills somebody, is that policeman still a murderer?
He’s got a worthy cause, I guess that gives him some immunity
Or is he just another lost soul in our community?
To take a life’s a serious thing and only God can judge it
Would he look at it like it’s for the safety of the public?
And if you don’t wanna pay the price you really shouldn’t thug it
I know I am playing with fire but fuck it, I love it

Album: “Maths + English” (2017)
Label: XL Recordings

12) “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” – Gil Scott-Heron

The song’s title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the United States. Its lyrics either mention or allude to several television series, advertising slogans and icons of entertainment and news coverage that serve as examples of what “the revolution will not” be or do. The song is a response to the spoken-word piece “When the Revolution Comes” by The Last Poets, from their eponymous debut, which opens with the line “When the revolution comes some of us will probably catch it on TV”.

Album: “Pieces of a Man” (1971)
Label: Ace Records

13) “Rise” – Solange

This song was inspired by police killings in Ferguson and Baltimore in 2015 and the subsequent protests. Solange doesn’t get the audience that Beyoncé does but she deserves to.

Album: “A Seat at the Table” (2015)
Label: Columbia Records

14) “What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye

On June 1, 1970, Gaye returned to Hitsville U.S.A. (nickname given to Motown’s first headquarters), where he recorded his new composition “What’s Going On”, inspired by an idea from Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Four Tops after he witnessed an act of police brutality at an anti-war rally in Berkeley. Upon hearing the song, Berry Gordy (founder Motown Records) refused its release due to his feelings of the song being “too political” for radio. Gaye responded by going on strike from recording until the label released the song. Released in 1971, it reached No. 1 on the R&B charts within a month, staying there for five weeks.

Album: “What’s Going On – 40th Anniversary (Super Deluxe)” (1971)
Label: Motown Records

15) “Heaven’s On The Other Side” – Curtis Harding

As a child, Harding was influenced by his mother’s gospel music. He also sees the evolution of gospel music as parallel with the history of African Americans in the United States, as the foundation of many musical genres. This song is a corker.

Album: “Soul Power” (2015)
Label: Curtis Harding, Under exclusive license to Anti, Inc.

16) “Eyes On The Prize” – Mavis Staples

Reviewer Lester Feder said: “She shakes powerful Civil Rights Era songs free of the layers of clichéd idealism that have tarnished them in the eyes of modern audiences. No aging hippies holding hands here. Staples’s rendition of such tunes as ‘Eyes On The Prize’, ‘On My Way’, ‘This Little Light Of Mine’ and ’99 And A Half’ remind the listener that these musical gems remain among America’s most powerful music, not just historical monuments to a political movement.”

Album: “We’ll Never Turn Back” (2007)
Label: Anti Inc.

17) “God’s Whisper” – Raury

Raury’s words:

“I was fucking pissed. I hated school. My mom found out I smoked pot. She was patronizing me all the time. I just wanted to drop out and focus on what I wanted to do which was music,” Raury says of the inspiration behind the song. “I thought school was a system of indoctrination and brainwashing, and they just want you to go to school, graduate, have kids and die. That’s something I won’t compromise. I won’t live my life on my knees.”

“When they see a person like me, who doesn’t give a fuck, following through the school system, they look down upon me. They think I’m nothing. But they have something coming because I hear God’s whisper. That means, my intuition, my natural calling in life is what God’s whisper is. When I say, ‘I am the saviour,’ I’m spreading that message to others. You have that whisper to you. You have your intuition. You have your own natural calling that you have to trust and follow”.

EP: “Indigo Child” (2015)
Label: 2014, 2015 Columbia Records

18) “A Change Is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke

“A Change Is Gonna Come”, is considered a classic protest song and one that is brilliant in its own right. The song was inspired by various personal events in Cooke’s life, most prominently an event in which he and his entourage were turned away from a whites-only motel in Louisiana.

Album: “Ain’t That Good News” (1964)
Label: ABKCO Music & Records

Further reading / watching:

The book being discussed in the video above can be purchased here.

Guardian article: “How #BlackLivesMatter started a musical revolution” by Daphne A Brooks

BlackPast is dedicated to providing a global audience with reliable and accurate information on the history of African America and of people of African ancestry around the world.”